Chrissy Hagerty and I have one thing in common — we’re both game for early morning (5 a.m.) hikes in the park. It’s hard to explain to those who enjoy their sleep, but there is a magical quality to the changing seasons and friendships that happen on the trail. Now, Chrissy is 6,640 miles away supporting her husband, Bill Hagerty as he serves our country as Ambassador to Japan. The importance of her role can’t be overstated as she welcomes dignitaries from all over the world. It is with great pleasure that I introduce Chrissy Hagerty, my dear friend, as our newest FACE of the South.
Tell us about yourself, where were you born and how you ended up in Nashville.
I was born and raised in Monterey Bay, California. After graduating with a degree in Economics from the University of San Diego, I moved to Washington D.C. to work for the U.S. Congressional Budget Committee. I later earned a Master’s Degree in International Economics and served as an Economist at the United States Department of Commerce, where I focused on the GDP and U.S. Balance of Payments. Bill and I met in Washington, D.C. and moved to Nashville, TN to be closer to our family there.
In July 2017, your husband Bill Hagerty was sworn in as the Ambassador to Japan. When you found out this appointment was a reality, what was your first reaction?
We were absolutely honored and thrilled. Let me take a step back and share a personal story. A few years ago, Bill and I were walking through his old neighborhood in Tokyo — where he lived for three years before we met. Our two oldest children were with us. Bill and I agreed that it would be wonderful if we someday had the opportunity to move our family to Tokyo and to give our children the incredible opportunity that Bill once enjoyed of living in such a rich and amazing culture. God must have heard us that day as we have now been provided this chance to live in this amazing country and serve our nation as the President’s senior representative and the United States’ chief diplomat to Japan.
Packing up your Nashville home and moving to Tokyo with four children must have been a feat. How did you pull it off?
We had a lot of help! The State Department puts new ambassadors and their spouses through a month-long training program in Washington, DC, before they head to their posts. This seminar prepares newly confirmed ambassadors to both be the President’s senior representatives to the nations to which they are headed and the chief executives of their embassies. And very important, this course also guides ambassadors and their families through the myriad of logistics, decisions and preparations for their international moves. The staff at the Department of State and the Embassy in Tokyo also played a critical role in making our transition smooth and successful.
Can you share with our readers what a typical day in Japan looks like for you?
One of my major responsibilities is the daily operation and upkeep of the historic Ambassador’s Residence — an important spot where Bill and I gather with top decision-makers, business leaders, entertainers, academics and other Japanese and American luminaries.
I start most days by meeting with the house manager to review the activities of the household staff. The residence is full of hard-working staff that all contribute to keeping the residence ready for parties and other events. We review the daily household schedules and events, meet with the head chef regarding menus and engage with my husband’s staff at the Embassy next door to coordinate calendars.
Aside from running the residence, I attend weekly scheduling meetings with my husband and his staff at the Embassy. I also join my husband as he connects with the Japanese people all around the country and lead my own gatherings.
Your role as the Ambassador of Japan’s wife is so important to the US. Can you share with our readers a recent experience?
Recently, we hosted a women’s entrepreneur luncheon at the Residence bringing together local female leaders to discuss women’s advancement and sharing ideas from our different areas of experience. It is an honor to plan and to represent the United States in events like that one that really get at the heart of how we can deepen connections between the U.S. and Japan.
As you know, Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics. Bill, the kids and I are all very excited about being a part of that, including hosting visiting American officials and athletes.
For you personally, what has been a highlight of your role as the wife of the Ambassador of Japan?
A highlight of my role has been the opportunity to connect with Japan’s leaders, who are instrumental in facilitating a great relationship between our countries. Bill and I had several wonderful experiences during the President and First Lady’s visit to Japan last November. To give an example, we attended a State dinner hosted by Prime Minister and Mrs. Abe for the First Couple. We were seated with the Prime Minister and President and had a wonderful evening with the two most critical political leaders to our relationship. It is a true privilege to witness such important historical events.
That same day, we were also able to host the President and First Lady at our Residence, as he met with business leaders and then greeted the Embassy staff and their families. It was really a thrill to be able to give our team that opportunity to hear from the President in person and to contribute to the historic legacy of the home we’re fortunate to live in now.
Explain the protocol and how it all comes together when you entertain dignitaries in the Embassy.
The protocol usually depends on the nature of the event and, more importantly, who we are hosting. For example, we have hosted very relaxed, informal events for outgoing Japanese exchange students, Boy Scouts and other very young audiences. For senior Japanese and American officials or business leaders, such as our guests when the President was here, we would typically host more formal events, but at the same time, we always strive to ensure our receptions and dinners are enjoyable experiences for all our guests. We have a very capable protocol office in the Embassy that helps us prepare and plan out our more complicated and formal official events.
Caroline Kennedy held the position of Ambassador to Japan under President Obama. What thoughts did she share with you about your new roles?
Caroline and Bill have built a strong and close relationship. She and her husband Ed loved their time in Japan and have been most generous in sharing their insights and perspectives to support our success here. We’ve received a lot of great advice from other former ambassadors and their spouses as well. We share a very rare honor and experience that makes us a tight-knit group!
You were one of the most avid hikers in Percy Warner Park. Have you found a new hiking spot in Japan?
I do a lot of “urban hiking” in Tokyo. On a daily basis, I traverse downtown from the grounds of the Imperial Palace to Tokyo Tower to Ginza – there is a wealth of architecture, fashion and food to take in walking the streets of this city. Outside of Tokyo, Japan is a mountainous nation, so there are plenty of great outdoor opportunities and amazing vistas throughout the country. One interesting side note about Japan: vending machines are everywhere. You can even find them at trailheads and other spots in the country. It’s very convenient — especially if you forget to bring water on a hike!
What do you miss most about living in the USA?
We have only lived in Tokyo for six months, and every day is still very exciting and new, so I’ll admit homesickness has not set in. That said, living anywhere in such a public capacity does bring its own challenges.
For example, our children love living in the historic and beautiful Residence, but they miss their privacy and personal time. The other morning my daughter walked downstairs to the living room in her pajamas to show her daddy a picture and, to her surprise, she was introduced to two generals visiting with him!
Culturally, I do miss the easy access to music and other aspects of American culture that we enjoy in Tennessee. Lots of famous performers do come to Tokyo, but it can be hard to find the time between Bill’s work and my other obligations to get out and see them.
You are obviously one of the tallest people in Japan. Do people stare at you?
Tokyo is actually a pretty diverse city, so I don’t stick out too much. Similar to Tennesseans, the Japanese people are extremely polite and kind. I have never felt out of place here. You don’t have to spend much time in Japan to realize that they wrote the book on hospitality!
Do you have a mentor who was influential in your life?
In my current role as spouse of U.S. Ambassador, I have benefited from many mentors such as Nobuko Sasae, the spouse of Japan’s outgoing Ambassador to the United States in Washington, DC. Nobuko once told me, “relax and have fun and everyone else will too.” She said by being herself, she was more successful at deepening the relationship between the United States and Japan. She also told me to enjoy every day, as the time goes by very quickly. These pieces of advice have been very useful.
Former U.S. ambassadors’ spouses, such as Ed Schlossberg, Susie Roos, Nancy Kassenbaum Baker and Heather Foley, have also have given us helpful and invaluable advice.
What are three things that you can’t live without (excluding friends, family and faith)?
- Barbecue sauce for my boys. Barbecue is starting to get popular here, but it’s hard to find Nashville sauces!
- Onsens (Japanese hot springs). They tend to be located in beautiful quiet corners of nature. A truly amazing experience.
- Japanese pearls! There is a fascinating tradition of pearl diving in Japan that has made it a leader in beautiful pearls.
Thank you to Chrissy Hagerty for answering all of our questions!
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